The facts are undisputed. However, the “truth” depends on your point of view.
On November 29, 1847, a band of Cayuse and Umatilla Indians stormed the mission run by Dr. Marcus Whitman and his wife Narcissa. The couple were shot and killed, along with 13 other men.
In addition, 54 women and children were taken hostage by the Indians. Some died, likely from measles, during their captivity. The survivors were released a month later, after the Hudson’s Bay Company paid a ransom that included guns, ammunition, clothing, and tobacco.
The Whitman Mission was the first established in the Oregon Territory. Wagon trains filled with settlers soon followed. Along with their religion, the missionaries and settlers brought new diseases, like measles, which quickly spread through the local Indian communities.
Was the “Whitman Massacre” the act of a rogue band of violent men, or was it payback because Dr. Whitman failed to stop the measles epidemic? Were the Whitmans faithful and courageous pioneers, or intruders who brought forced conversion and contagion to the native people?
Whitman Mission National Historic Site is a compelling setting to think about the relationship between early settlers and American Indians. You can see the footprints of the mission buildings, as well as the mass grave where the missionaries were buried. There is also a memorial and a museum.